Honouring resistance in Palestine
Israeli Apartheid Week event brings together scholars of Palestinian heritage
On Thursday March 9, around thirty students and community members gathered in the Henry F. Hall building at Concordia for an event titled “The ethnic cleansing of Palestine: A never ending Resistance.” The panel discussion, featuring scholars Nahla Abdo, Nuha Dwaikat Shaer, and Rula Abisaab, was organised by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia as part of Montreal’s Israeli Apartheid Week. The talk had barely begun when it was disrupted by two hecklers brandishing Israeli flags.
Israeli Apartheid Week ( IAW) takes place each year in over 225 cities across the world. Montreal’s version of IAW, held from March 6 to 15 on various university campuses, describes itself on Facebook as “Ten days of panels, workshops, film screenings, demonstrations and cultural events […] in opposition to apartheid and occupation / In solidarity with Palestinian resistance / In support of social justice struggles everywhere.”
The evening began with a land acknowledgement by SPHR Concordia’s facilitator before the first panelist was interrupted just a few minutes into her presentation. Two individuals strode into the vicinity chanting about Israel and draped in Israeli flags. They proceeded to stand in front of the audience, blocking the presentation screen from view as they yelled “there’s no Palestine.”
Their arrival sparked shouts in the audience, while Rula Abisaab read one of the poems she was presenting to drown out the disruption. The event’s organizers eventually succeeded in shifting the individuals to one side. Security staff arrived and silently escorted the hecklers away from the area.
Nahla Abdo is a Professor at Carleton University, where she conducts research pertaining to the experiences of Palestinian women. Her lecture, once resumed, focused on the terminology and theoretical frameworks generally used to talk about the Israeli occupation. Abdo argued that articulations of this occupation as “racism” and “Islamophobia” are insufficient.
“We need a theory of the settler colonial state and Indigeneity,” she said. “It is not racism happening there, it is something else.” Abdo emphasized the importance of naming settler colonialism and genocide specifically, comparing the struggle of Palestinians to other Indigenous struggles around the globe. She went on to speak about the usefulness and limitations of the term “apartheid,” and reviewed recent literature on the subject. Her lecture ended with a call to study Palestinian history, citing, for example, the processes behind the 1948 Palestinian exodus, or Nakba, to better understand the situation in Palestine.
Nuha Shaer, a PHD candidate in the School of Social Work at Mcgill, addressed the disruption that took place at the start of the event.
“What jumped into my mind [was] images of Israeli soldiers invad- ing my home many times, arresting my family members, humiliating us. So, for me, as a Palestinian who came from Nablus in the West Bank, […] I feel it’s hard for me to experience that there and come here in Canada […], where we’re supposed to be safe, and see the same images.”
Shaer then described her work as “concepts put into practice,” before outlining her research on the realities of Israeli policy implementation in the West Bank, specifically “Area C.” Area C refers to one of the three administrative areas into which the West Bank was divided by the Oslo Accords in the 1990s; Israel still upholds these divisions.
Much of her presentation revealed what one of her slides called “a quiet ethnic cleansing,” in reference to Israel “always attempting to appear […] legal.” According to Shaer, the techniques behind this include building segregated roads, establishing natural reserves that are later given to settlers, surveillance and demolition, as well as prohibitions and restrictions on building and access to water and electricity.
Shaer concluded with a list of resistance tactics, and strategies for solidarity with those living in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel considers it illegal for Palestinians to build homes.
Rula Abisaab, associate professor of History and Islamic Studies at Mcgill, transitioned into dis- cussing poetry and literature. She explained that literature is the best medium for students to grasp tragedies like the Nakba. Beginning with a poetic introduction dedicated to “carrying the lives and memories of Palestinians to us and to the world”, Abisaab then read from works by various poets and short story writers. Each reading was introduced with a brief biography of its author, emphasizing Abisaab’s wish to “open a space for the voices of Palestinian writers, women and men, […] who lived through experiences of incarceration, displacement, expulsion, [and] torture.”
Despite a delay caused by the initial disturbance, a significant part of the audience was still present when the panel opened itself to a brief conversation with the audience. Before this could begin however, the facilitator made a public request for anyone with footage of the hecklers to come forward, citing “security reasons.”
The panelists then heard comments and questions ranging from general concerns over access to natural resources and sustainability, to the demolition of the homes of Palestinian detainees in their absence and Israel’s mapping practices. Abisaab’s answer to the latter was to ask that people to “refuse to call these areas [in the West Bank] by letters and numbers”, while Nuha Shaer said, with a smile, “We don’t exist… but we exist!”
“We need a theory of the settler colonial state and Indigeneity... It is not racism happening there, it is something else.”